Olympic village converted to Christian centre - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
May 10, 2005

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Olympic village converted to Christian centre

-10/05/05

Part of the site of the Olympic Games in 2004 is being transformed this week into a global meeting point for Christians from 105 countries, writes Simon Barrow for Ekklesia in Athens, Greece.

The Agios Andreas Recreational Centre in Attiki, near Athens, formed the hub of media operations for the Games. It is now mainly used by officers of the Greek army. For seven days, however, the military is taking a back seat to a historic meeting about the future of Christian mission ñ one focusing on the healing, reconciling and peacemaking vocation of the churches in a divided and violent world.

The event is the thirteenth Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), organized by the World council of Churches and hosted by the Orthodox Church of Greece along with representatives of the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church of Greece, the Armenian Orthodox Church, Apostoliki Diakonia and the Greek Bible Society.

The aim of the gathering is to provide an opportunity for practical exchange about the future of Christian witness and priorities in global mission. Many participants have traveled from the worldís hotspots, including the Middle East, to discuss how the Gospel can help overcome violence and build a culture of peace

Over 600 delegates plus another 100 advisers and media are being housed in a picturesque village of bungalows and apartments looking out over the sea. Each morning and evening small gatherings of participants mushroom across the site to share in Bible study, hospitality and reflection.

The opening plenary was introduced this morning by the CWME moderator, the Rev Ruth Bottoms, a British Baptist who now lives and works from an alternative community in Pilsdon, England.

A welcome address on behalf of the local Church has come from the Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece, His Beatitude Christodoulos. A message is also due to be received from the Vatican, on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI.

While some Orthodox in other parts of the world have qualms about the ecumenical movement, the Archbishop of Athens has been openly supportive of it.

In 2003 Archbishop Christoloudos made an impassioned plea for the European Union to include mention of God and of the role of Christianity in its Constitution, a document that has since been mired in political argument.

One of the underlying issues for the future of Christian mission is the question of church-state relations, as well as engagement with other religions, notably Islam. In different ways Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches have all made territoriality part of the way they organize themselves.

But this approach is questioned by Christians who emphasize witness within and towards society rather than concordats with governing authorities. They include those in the Anabaptist stream of faith, whose ecumenical presence is small but who are now represented (for the first time) by German Mennonite Fernando Enns on the WCC Central Committee.

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